Music of Montserrat

Montserrat is a dependency of the United Kingdom. The influence of Irish traditions is apparent in Montserrat’s symbols and heritage, especially the set dance-like Bam-chick-lay, and the presence of fife and drum ensembles similar to the bodhran. Natives are also witness to the jumbie dance, the style of which is still strongly African. Instruments include the ukulele and shak-shak, an African instrument made from a calabash gourd; both of these are used in traditional string bands. Calypso and spiritual-influenced vocal choirs, like the Emerald Isle Community Singers, are popular.

Folk Music – Montserrat’s folk musical heritage includes a wide array of religious and ritual folk music. There are also folk songs used in spiritual musical traditions, in addition to secular use; indeed, there is little distinction between secular and spiritual aspects of traditional Montserratian culture. Folk songs are generally in the Montserrat Creole language and concern topics ranging from obeah (magic) to agriculture, infidelity and historic occurrences.Many songs are widespread and well-known, and occur in numerous variations, including Nincom Riley and All de Relief, two of the most famous Montserratian folk songs. The folk repertoire also include calypsos and Irish melodies.

Jumbie – The jumbie dance has been called the purest manifestation of folk religion on Montserrat, and is an iconic part of folk culture, bringing together local folklore, dance, song and music. It has also been described as a startling and unique hybrid, consisting of Western instruments (that) produce Africanesque music, to which dancers perform Irish steps while moving their upper bodies like Africans.
The jumbie dance was probably last performed in 1980. Jumbies are traditionally said to be spirits, one of several kinds that also include the African sukra and jabless, and the Irish mermaid, animal spirit (similar to the puca) and the Jack Lantern. Jumbies hold a similar place in Montserratian society as fairies does in Irish culture; they are the recipients of many small offerings, such as bits of food or drink, and the subject of numerous daily superstitions and rituals.
The jumbie dance is performed by four couples, one man and one woman. They each do a series of sets, consisting of five quadrilles played at successively swifter tempos. The couples will switch out as they get tired, until eventually one becomes possessed by a jumbie. They often move about wildly, fall to the floor and shout in glossolalia.

Some Montserratian Irish trace the origins of the jumbie dance to the pre-emancipation period, when slaves attempted to perform the dances performed by white overseers and landowners. Jumbie dances are traditionally performed after a celebration, in the home of a sponsor, and to mark times of individual crisis or major life changes, such as a wedding or christening.
There are generally three jumbie dancers in a unit, who perform accompanied by the babala (tambourine, or jumbie drum), triangle, fife or pulley (accordion, concertina or melodeon), and most importantly the French reel (also jumbie drum or woowoo), a skin drum that produces an ominous sound which is said to attract the jumbie spirits.

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